Sort & Cull

Packing Plants Feel the Pressure

ShayLe Stewart
By  ShayLe Stewart , DTN Livestock Analyst
Even though last week's slaughter was disappointing, the marketplace hopes to have a robust kill this week to help restock depleted coolers. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Victoria G. Myers)

With last week's slaughter being estimated at a measly 552,000 head (down 56,000 head from the previous week and 74,000 head lower than a year ago) the entire marketplace is going to be fixated on tracking this week's slaughter and praying for an aggressive slaughter week ahead.

Like the rest of the livestock industry, packing plants faced challenges last week that were widespread. They included the inability to safely haul cattle, worker absenteeism, shortages of natural gas and loss of power, which all led to a lighter weekly kill at a time when beef is being highly sought after.

Thankfully, this week is already off to a better start with Monday's slaughter estimated at 119,000 head -- 40,000 head more than a week ago (remember that last Monday was Presidents Day) and 2,000 head more than a year ago. With packers having every incentive needed to run vigorous processing schedules, by Saturday the week's slaughter is expected to land somewhere between 650,000 and 660,000 head, which would help restock depleted meat coolers.

The unexpected disruption in processing speeds sent boxed beef prices higher as last week choice cuts averaged $236.56 (up $2.80 from a week ago) and select cuts averaged $224.89 (up $4.19 from a week ago). Boxed beef prices were already trending notably higher than what year-ago levels were at in the same week in 2020, choice cuts averaged $205.71 and select cuts averaged $202.99.

The brutally harsh weather conditions seen last week took cattle in the feedlots from gaining weight to losing weight while still on a full ration. Some feedlots are claiming that they loaded out cattle last week that had dropped upward of 50 pounds simply due to weather-induced stress. With corn prices as high as they are, this creates a nightmare for feedlots as that weight is lost time and money.

Though COVID-19 brought on challenges never seen before, one cannot deny that it did indeed boost consumer's meat demand and that's thankfully continued into 2021.

Tune into this week's Cattle Market News Update on the DTN/Progressive Farmer Facebook Page or by clicking this link:…

ShayLe Stewart can be reached at


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